Building Community At America's Table

Field Trip: A Tour of Monsanto (yeah, you read that right)

written by Ellen

So, as part of the One Hundred Meals project, Grant and I are field-tripping to Monsanto next week. Wait, the WHAT? I mean, really? MONSANTO? YES! We’ll be infiltrating enemy lines!!!!

No, in all seriousness.

You don’t have to stretch your mind too much to realize the shock we both felt when someone with an email address that ended with “” was actually emailing us, inviting us to travel to St. Louis and tour the facility, have some meetings and, hopefully, have time for a meal at Niche restaurant! And if nothing is going to test the boundaries of our willingness to be open to learning and listening, arriving at Monsanto with a notebook and commitment to being unbiased is it.

It’s where our feet are held to the fire and we have no choice but to decide once and for all that we are going to do with this project what we set out to do — report on the facts as honestly as we can. And really, I know we can do this.

Because we believe that while we don’t need to convert — and really, likely we will not — we do in fact believe that we all need to have a productive, respectful dialog about food if we are going to move forward as a community and thrive.

And really, we very, very much believe that for this meal, we need to be respectful guests with lots of smart questions.

Of course, this is going to take a lot of learning up front about the issues, products and track record of Monsanto. Right now, my knowledge of the company is so limited and skewed I feel like an ignorant asshat. “Monsanto: Hate.” is about the extent of my range.

So, we’re reaching out in this post to anyone and everyone who might help us prepare by sending us:

  1. Links to articles and scholarly papers that serve as good, unbiased introductions to GMOs and Monsanto in general. (OK, nothing is unbiased, likely, so just send it all and we’ll try to take good notes for both sides.)
  2. Titles of good books or documentaries we can absorb (I read insanely fast, so pour it on.)
  3. Questions you have that you haven’t been able to find a solid answer for (and for which you have actually tried to find an answer). We don’t, for instance, wanna ask about the lawsuits against farmers who are sued by Monsanto for illegally growing GMO crops. It is a dead issue and if you take some time to learn about the facts, you’ll understand that to be true. We do, though, want to ask about contamination of organic fields from pollen sources and how they are dealing with that.

I think, personally, it is awesome they Monsanto is opening the door for us. Sure, they’re gonna tell their story their way — but you know, I tell my story my way and you tell your story your way. We get that. We’ll be listening for that. But the truth is, a person I respect actually once told me she believes that Monsanto will answer any question honestly, even if it makes them look bad. I find that astounding and wanna see for myself. And, really, if it’s true, I wanna know why.

Ours is a small project on a small scale. We aren’t some big news outlet with eyeballs from here to kingdom come. We’re just a couple of people who want to find out what is really going on in our food supply. And I think it is significant that Monsanto is taking the time to invite us in and answer our questions.

I can only hope more Big Ag folks take this open-door stance. Personally, I think it would do a lot to help them in their own quest to be understood.


9 responses

  1. Kind of fun to be the person to put a face on Monsanto for you guys. Really am looking forward to your visit and understand you will come with questions. We should have some ansers as well as the farmers who are coming…. and I’m sure I’m going to pick up a lot from the two of you as well…. starting with my first visit to Niche. I’m pretty positive it will be the first of many.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm

  2. Oh, and one of the books I go back to regularly is Tomorrow’s Table by Pam Ronald (University of California).

    This is one that is still on my reading list…. Nina Federov’s Mendel in the Kitchen. I think you’ve prompted me to go ahead and download that one!

    July 31, 2012 at 2:30 pm

  3. I hope you’ll take time to read an interesting new book by Canadian professor Pierre DeRocher and his wife, economist Hiroko Shimizu called “The Locavore’s Dilemma.” Not specifically about Monsanto, but addresses some of the current myths about agriculture economy of scale and GMO. Also, any information you come across about Norman Borlaug would be of considerable significance. Have fun with JP – she’s a joy!

    July 31, 2012 at 2:35 pm

  4. Hi Ellen- Kudos to you for having an open mind and trying to learn more about agriculture and the role that companies, like Monsanto, play in our lives. I wish more people appreciated food like you do. I have a love for all things agriculture, no matter the shape or size. I wrote a blog post some time ago about a book that I loved (see link below). I hope you’ll enjoy it too. Our door is always open too, so anytime you’d like to visit a farm in North Dakota, you just come on over 🙂

    July 31, 2012 at 2:39 pm

  5. I’m looking forward to hearing about this- I’m sure it will be a learning experience for both parties!

    August 1, 2012 at 10:42 am

  6. Ellen, I wish I’d realized you were going on your trip *next week* when I ran into you a few days ago! Would you like to borrow my copy of Stolen Harvest by Dr. Vandana Shiva? Personally my biggest issues with GMOs are not around how our food is being “engineered” or “created in a lab.” My issues are: a) the injustice that results when seeds are patented and the means of production are lost by traditional farmers since they can no longer save seed year to year, or must rely on special inputs every year; b) the loss of biodiversity and how this could have critical impacts on our world food supply and ability to respond to the inevitable natural pressures. (Think something like the potato famine could never happen again? Really?) It is hubris to think that we humans can always stay one step ahead of natural forces. We also get so easily seduced by easier short-term results that we are sometimes blinded to the longer term results: the increasing concentration of our global food supply into the hands of a few corporations.

    I think any thoughtful company will say that competition is GOOD for them as it keeps them on their toes and drives innovation. Farmers should be able to compete in the marketplace, too, by being free to grow and develop crops that are appropriate for their region, and by being able to trade seed with each other.

    I think focusing the conversation just on whether it is “safe” to consume GMO crops is only a very small part of the issues around this technology.

    August 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm

  7. I believe this is one of Pollan’s more comprehensive pieces on Monsanto, and he pays them a visit too:

    I imagine that many of us are concerned about monoculture. I’d be most curious to know whether Monsanto shares the same concerns, and if not, why not.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

  8. Is it possible to get a copy of the list of scholarly articles you compiles on Monsanto– am an environmental health researcher considering looking into the full panoply of Monsanto’s impacts on the environment and health

    May 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    • elliecm

      Thanks for reading! Any important links were linked, otherwise I save reading material.

      May 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

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